Monday, August 17, 2009

Beware The Hidden Costs of Cruising

Saving Money Tip #175 - Beware The Hidden Costs of Cruising. Taking a cruise can be a fabulous vacation. It may even be an economical vacation. But when you plan one, make sure you figure in ALL costs related to the cruise, not just the $299 special that the ads throw at you. There are specials for cruises going on all of the time – especially right before a ship sales you can get some good deals. Remember, however, to add in port charges and fees, insurance if you want it, tips, transportation to the port, tolls and parking if you drive, extras while you are on board such as drinks or photos, and any excursions you plan to take once you reach port. These prices can double the cost of the amount you expected to pay.

Cruising might still be a good deal if you are going to spend a lot of money on a vacation anyway – by going out to fancy dinners each night, participating in lots of activities, or by staying at a fancy resort hotel. It would not be a good deal, if your idea of a dinner out on vacation would usually be a Shoney’s or a fried chicken joint. It probably won’t be economical for you if you normally just lie at a pool or a beach when you travel, and it probably won’t be comparatively cheap if your idea of vacation is driving to a destination and sightseeing.

On a cruise, you are paying for all-you-can eat food, activities ‘round the clock, entertainment in the form of nightly shows, pampering in the form of twice-daily makeup of your rooms, and service with a smile. If those are normally things you pay for on vacation, a cruise could very well make sense for you from a financial standpoint. If you don’t regularly do these things on vacation, then you will be paying for a lot of things that you don’t normally like or do.

Overall, I think you need to seriously consider whether the costs involved in a cruise vacation are right for you. I know many people who swear by cruising, and I can completely understand that. On the other hand, I think a lot of people would be wasting their money by taking a cruise.

In Real Life (IRL) – As I mentioned in my post last week, I am new to cruising. However, my parents have been cruising for many years – going on about one cruise each year. They completely feel like they get their money’s worth and that they would pay a lot more for a similar vacation that is not a cruise. And to some degree I agree with them. When my parents offered to take the whole family on vacation, I offered to do the research. I looked into many resorts on the East Coast that we could drive to. These were hotels with meals and some activities included. And when compared to a cruise, they were much more expensive. Once we decided that a cruise would be the most economical yet still fairly luxurious vacation, we researched all of our local options. By eliminating the cost of airfare, we figured we’d cut the price down considerably. In some ways, that was true. However, prices in less busy ports than Fort Lauderdale or Miami have more expensive cruising price tags. Many of the great deals on cruises leave out of Florida. But once you have to factor in flying there, all cost benefits are negated.

We ended up considering Baltimore, Philadelphia, New Jersey, and New York as our departure port. And because of timing constraints, the only cruise that really fit our bill was a 5-day cruise out of New York to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, Canada. As I mentioned my father footed the bill (Thanks, Dad!) for most of the cruise. It was up to us to pay for our transportation, tipping, and drinks or incidentals on board, and any excursions we did. Our “free” cruise ended up costing us over $500! And frankly, the cost of the cruise wasn’t all that cheap either. Our staterooms cost about $700 per person for the first two people plus about $100 each for port charges and fees. Fortunately, the $9 per day per person fuel charge was dropped from the initial estimate. Third and fourth people in the room were about $500 including fees. So for a family of 4, it cost about $2600 for the basic cruise. But once you factor in parking at the New York port ($150), tips (suggested at $10 per day per person for a total of $200), an excursion to Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia ($150), a couple of family photos on board ($30), and gas and tolls from Washington, DC ($50), you can see how the hidden costs really add up. That’s over $3,000 for a 5-day cruise for 4 people (we actually have 5 people in our family, and my dad paid for a second stateroom, since it ended up being only about $600 more, but I thought a family of 4 was a more generic example). Furthermore, we cruised on Carnival Cruise line, which is generally considered to be one of the less expensive cruise lines. In fact, when we did our research, the only other cruise that fit our criteria was a Royal Caribbean cruise, and it was much costlier.

For me, I think I would have been disappointed if I paid that much money for what we got – only because a lot of what comes with the cruise is wasted on me. I don’t care for fine dining. I’m a vegetarian, so there was only one option per meal in the dining room. I’m not a huge fan of evening entertainment. While I enjoyed the magician and other show I saw, it’s not something I would normally do or pay for on a vacation. Two of my children (2 and 4 years old) were too young to enjoy many of the activities on board, yet we paid the same price for them as if they were adults. There was a camp available, but both of them cried when we put them in. I mostly enjoyed visiting the port locations and had we done a driving vacation to those places, I’m sure our cost would be half of what the cruise cost us, err cost my dad.

So all in all, I think a cruise could be a good deal for a certain type of vacationer. But for my family, I felt like we didn’t get to utilize all that was offered on it, and when we factored in all of the extra expenses, it wasn’t worth the total cost.

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